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  • Writer's picturedrjennifer_tauks

Strategies for Supporting Adolescents After Making Poor Choices

As parents and therapists, we are often presented with difficult decisions when our adolescent children make poor choices. This is an incredibly challenging scenario for those of us who have worked hard to ensure that all guidelines and expectations around behavior have been clearly outlined – to only then be met with a seemingly inexplicable rule-breaking can be disheartening and frustrating. While parenting must remain steady in the face of such challenges, some strategies can help both parents and professionals better support adolescents after they’ve made a mistake or acted inappropriately.

Navigating this terrain takes patience, consistency, empathy, and understanding on the part of adults; these qualities alone can go a long way toward helping adolescents learn from their mistakes. As parents, we want our adolescents to become responsible adults who make positive choices. By understanding the adolescent brain and using some effective communication techniques, you can help your teen recover from their mistakes and become a resilient adult. Here are some strategies for supporting adolescents after making poor choices in their lives:

Acknowledge that they are capable of making good decisions despite the poor choice

Adolescent development is a pivotal time in life. This is the age when teens must learn to make their own decisions. It is essential they recognize that even if they have made a poor decision, they are capable of making good choices in the future. By encouraging adolescents to understand and accept responsibility for their actions and allowing them to further cultivate their own agency, we can promote autonomy which will help enrich their growth and identity formation.

Help them understand why the decision was harmful without judging or shaming them

It is important to remember that harm reduction is an effective approach to understanding decisions that may have been harmful. When talking to someone about a decision they have made, it is critical that we come from a place of non-judgment and respect in order to help them identify how their choice may have caused harm. It’s also essential that we don't shame them for the manner of their decision-making – it’s important to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and has different emotional needs. Instead, focus on helping the person explore potential solutions so they can develop better-coping strategies and lead healthier lives.

Talk about how to make different choices in the future and brainstorm solutions together

In order to create healthy choices in the future, it is important for parents and adolescents to engage in actively brainstorming solutions. This kind of active relationship-building increases autonomy for the adolescent while providing a supportive framework for healthy decision-making. Through respect, understanding, and communication, parents and their children can learn about healthy decision-making that considers the individual wants, needs, and views of each family member.

Suppose one considers effective positive reinforcement and healthy limits as the basis of “family rules” together. In that case, parents are given an opportunity to model healthy decision-making while strategically intervening if necessary. When adult caregivers reminisce on healthy choices they made at different points in their own lives while also considering how they might have done differently, adolescents can more readily discuss how they view making decisions now as well as strategizing ideas for making better choices in the future.

Offer support and encouragement throughout the process

Providing role-model support and encouragement to adolescents plays a critical role in helping them to develop empathy. Offering positivity and guidance throughout their respective process allows adolescents to understand that they are capable of growth which leads to the internalization of values such as compassion and understanding. By giving primary role-model support, adolescents learn self-acceptance while developing a strong internal locus of control which serves them in the long run. Supporting these young individuals through their personal journey is the key to helping nurture the development of an empathetic lens.

Let them know that you are there for them and will help them through this difficult time

In challenging times, unconditional support is essential for a sense of security and well-being. As a supportive figure, you want to create a shame-free environment so that you can build a stronger future together. This kind of presence expresses care and understanding, which will allow us to face the obstacles before us with courage and understanding. Having someone who believes in them can help them find the resilience needed to tackle difficult challenges and work through them successfully. Let them know that you are there for them no matter what, that you appreciate their effort, and that you have faith in the strength of their character and spirit. This will foster better future decision-making,


Your adolescent has made a poor choice, and you are angry, disappointed, and maybe even feeling betrayed. It is important to remember that your adolescent is capable of making good decisions despite this poor choice. They need your help to understand why the decision was harmful without judging or shaming them so they can make different choices in the future. Talk about how to make different choices in the future and brainstorm solutions together. Offer support and encouragement throughout the process. Let them know that you are there for them and will help them through this difficult time. Supporting your adolescent after making poor choices is critical in adolescent development and establishing a healthier communication pattern for the future. Ultimately, when adults are present as thoughtful guides rather than disciplinarians, adolescents can learn the importance of making thoughtful decisions.

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